Michael Croft – Interview Transcript

Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Michael Croft – Helensburgh

Interviewer: Edie Swift

Interview Date: 15 March 2018

Edie   It’s March 15th, 2018 and I am Edie Swift and I’m interviewing Michael Croft who’s the secretary of the Men’s Shed in, ah, the Men’s Shed in, of Helensburgh, which is located in Stanwell Park right now, is that right?

Michael   Yes.

Edie   Okay. Um, and the oral history will go into the Wollongong City Library Local Studies department. So, if you’d like to start talking about what, how this came about, how did this come about?

Michael   Um, well the Lions Club, Probus, View Club and Northern Illawarra Neighbour A are all voluntary organisations in Helensburgh, alongside the three major churches, and people in all of those organisations had been talking about the needs for retired men since probably, I don’t know, probably 2005 maybe 2010. I’m not really sure of the date of that. But from 2010 to 2015 there was quite a bit of noise in the community and there’s a lot of crossover between those groups. Um, in, ah, that noise was just expressing the need for men. And we do have an ageing population here, quite a few retired men, I think there’s several hundred of them.

In 2015, in February, the team at Hope Church, ah, got together and started discussing in a serious way how to establish a Men’s Shed. Um, there were half a dozen or more men under the leadership of Lionel Rattenbury, the pastor there, were meeting, talking, looking at what would be required, and that conversation remained a conversation because of there weren’t enough personnel to, to drive it who had the skills. In 2016 the men from the Anglican Church started a, were doing a working bee and converted the working bee into a Men’s Shed. And that was, ah, under the Anglican Church’s Men’s Shed organisation. And they were meeting every Monday during school term to do working bee activities and meet together and, um, just share their life. In mid-2016, the team from the Anglican Church met up with the team from Hope Church and realised we had exactly the same aims and goals and between us, as a combined force, we had enough people to form a committee that could, um, manage the organisation of a Shed and not only that, we had enough men between us who wanted to be in a Shed. So, there were a group who wanted to be the Shed but weren’t able to commit to any sort of responsibilities.

Edie   Was the church in Stanwell Park or Helensburgh?

Michael   Ah, the Anglican Church is located in both places, so there’s a, the Anglican Church of Helensburgh and Stanwell Park has two buildings, two properties and so, um, I’ll come to that in a minute. So, the, so the, the Anglican Men’s Shed was meeting in Stanwell Park and the Hope Church team was still meeting in their church talking committee stuff. And, and when we got together, we realised that we needed to work together, because we wanted to, we wanted to serve the town, the men of the town, not just the men in our churches. We formed a committee, ah, formalised what we were doing, um, registered ourselves with AMSA, the Australian Men’s Shed Association, got a trading name, registered our-, began the process of registering ourselves as a not-for-profit organisation under the auspices of Hope Church and we held [coughing] a public meeting. That public meeting…

Edie   Excuse me.

Michael   That public meeting was held on August the 4th at Helensburgh Tradies Club and, um, 31 people turned up, which was just excellent. Um, that was a really positive meeting. Twenty-four of those 31 signed up as members, so we had a good core group to begin the activities of the Shed. Um, so we went about leasing a factory premises to start our activities in. Um, and that lease was underwritten by the two churches, um, Stanwell Tops Conference Centre and a number of other significant donors and sponsors. Um, we received a pile of donations of furniture, of tools, machines and we began the process of setting them up while Council was working through our DA. On September 13th of 2016, we began working in the space to set up workbenches, organised the space in order that when the DA was finally approved, we could start actual work. Unfortunately, um, that wasn’t to be. On September the 24th we held a, another public meeting to open, open the doors, let people see the space and to collect more members, and that was achieved. So, we ended the year, I think, with three dozen or so members, um, by the end of the year. However, the DA, um, wasn’t approved. It didn’t, the space there was a, an area of the workshop that did not meet fire regulations and so we weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to use that. Um, and the complication of getting the landlord to do that, um, proved too much for both parties and so he released us from our lease. We sought a lease elsewhere subject to a DA and unfortunately somebody else leased it before the DA got approved, so we were homeless. And in our homeless state the Anglican Church offered the Church hall in Stanwell Park as a temporary premise while we sought to get a space. And we’ve been operating in the Anglican Church hall ever since.

We’ve had meetings with Council, um, to try and find a suitable property to, to build on. We’ve had meetings with our local Member with the same, [laughs] the same question. He’s approached the Department of Lands ‘cos there’s lots of, um, State-owned land around Helensburgh, round the whole district, but the Department of Lands, um, are extremely difficult to deal with. They are loathed to; it seems they’re loathe to lease land to community organisations or to release it for other uses. So, so we’re at, at the point of now, um, chasing land elsewhere. Um, so in October of 2016 we moved all of our tools and equipment to Stanwell Park and then we started working, operating the Shed out of the Stanwell Park Church hall. And that’s an interesting exercise because we share the hall with other users. The Church has various groups that use that hall, amongst them is Christian Surfers. And so, they need the space, so we’ve had to arrange our workshop in such a way that we can move all of our equipment and workbenches to one end so that it’s a safe place for young people to do their youth-type activities. And for, we have a women’s group there too that do, um, sewing and other craft activities. So, we, we now, we were operating just on Mondays, um, until, ah, the middle of this year, yeah, June 2017, in June this year 2017, we opened on Tuesdays, so we now operate on Mondays and Tuesdays.

We’re self-funding, ah, we’ve us-, we’ve acquired quite a substantial amount of grant, government grants from both the Federal and State government. Lee Evans has been very helpful in getting grants, as has, ah, Sharon Bird, so we’re very thankful for the monies they’ve got. We’ve got sponsorships from the churches, from, um, the Stanwell Tops Conference Centre. Members make regular, ah, payments for attending the Shed and we’re selling various goods. We’ve also done Bunnings barbecues at Wollongong and now at Bellambi and also at Kirrawee. And they’re, they’re a really good little fund raiser. A lot of work though, quite hard work, [Laughter] um, and that raises our funds. We’re doing all sorts of different work, ah, restoring machines. Um, we, we fixed a rotary hoe, a large rotary hoe that’s gone to a mission organisation in Africa. It’s just, I think it’s just shipped out. That was a very satisfying little thing. We do, we’re making some furniture for one of the local businesses, some coffee tables we make toys. We’ve got a Shed spot in the local newsagent for the promotion of the Shed and the sale of items. And in, um, in June this year we’re running a, um, “Spanner in the Works” program, which is a, a health promotion program with seminars on men’s health matters, um, at the local club. So, we’re, we’re not just, um, a place for tinkering, we really like to encourage men to consider all of the health issues that face, face men and particularly ageing men. So yeah, yeah, we’re, we’re pretty active.

Edie   Now, what’s happening in the society, in the community that these men need this service?

Michael   Well, typically when a man retires, he, um, he loses a sense of, um, value because he found a lot of worth for himself in his work. And many men, um, if they don’t become depressed, go into a blue funk, and sit around becoming inactive. And the Men’s Shed is the place where men can go, have something useful to do, and some other men to talk to. Um, we have as our motto, “Shoulder to Shoulder.” Um, men will talk more readily shoulder to shoulder over an activity than they will face to face. So, we’re trying to provide a place to, men to go, to reduce the amount of social isolation that typically faces men in retirement. Ah, I guess the other thing is, there are lots of activities that men can do, but often in retirement they downsize their house and lose their workshop, and so providing a Men’s Shed gives a bloke a workshop. Ah, and that’s, we have a number of men for whom that’s the case, and that’s, that’s proved a real boon to them, yeah.

Edie   It’s a wonderful thing. I’ve seen it all over where I’ve been reviewing these Men’s Sheds people. It’s just great.

Michael   Oh, that’s good, yep. Yeah, yeah. We, two of us went to the annual conference, the Australian Men’s Sheds Association Annual Conference. There was several, ah, 300, I think, men at that conference. There are 1,000 Sheds in Australia, so it’s quite a big movement, um, and it caters for all sorts. Ah, we have we have a couple of fellows who are significantly not handy, and they come, and they might paint, but they’ll, the fellowship of being with the other fellows and talking while they’re working and getting out of the house has been fantastic. Two blokes last week were sent by their wives. They, they both care for their wives and their wife, their wives were sick of them hanging around the house and booted them out and said, you know, said “Go to the Shed!” And both of them said, “Oh, I’ll just go for a little while.” And their wives instructed them to stay all day. So, there’s a benefit. A number of wives have been co-, interviewed and they’ve, they have commented on, ah, how much better company their husband has become as a result of the activities of the Shed. So, that… it’s very rewarding to be part of that sort of group and to hear that sort of feedback.

Edie   Will you, um, get more funding do you think as you succeed?

Michael   Um, well actually it’s kind of the reverse. The more self-sufficient and successful you are the less funding you can get. So, you have to become quite skilled at getting grants. We anticipate, we’re, we’re hopeful and prayerful that later this year we’ll have some land to build, so we’ll be looking for $250,000 to build a Shed. Um, and you can get some government money, but you’ve really got to tap into the generosity of your local community for that sort of thing.

Edie   What will you do next year? What is, what’s looking for the future for you?

Michael   2018? 2018 would be to build a, build a Shed three times the size of the one we’re in. That would be that would, it would be a wonderful project to be spending 2018 building a Shed. Yeah.

Edie   Oh, I hope you do it… [laughter]

Michael   Yeah, me to.

Edie   Very wonderful. And you get satisfaction out of do-, being the secretary too.

Michael   Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, being on the committee, I’m on the committee of management both, both at the policy level but also the practical level. So, there’s two committees really, there’s the Shed managers who supervise the workshop and make sure that everything’s done safely, and that’s been really satisfying to see. Um, the fellow who has a passion for a tool developing ah, lessons on the safe use all of that tool and then presenting it to the other men, that’s been, that’s been great to see that sort of ownership of you know, “I’m the drill man. And I” teach people how to use a drill.” ‘Cos we’ve, we’ve got a couple of blokes who’ve never used a drill, never used electric drill never used electric circular saw, anything. And so that’s been really, that’s been great to see that happening. Yeah.

Edie   Well I wish you luck. I think it’s just wonderful and I just hope you’re successful. And if you want to make any other comments you could do it now.

Michael   Ah, the comment that I’d make for Wollongong, ah, particularly, is that the Wollongong Sheds need to work more closely with one another. Um, and that’s something I’m working on with ‘The Spender in the Works’, so yeah, that’d be the thing I’d like to see happen.

Edie   Would you like to say anything else?

Michael   Mmm.

Edie   All right. Well thank you so much. And, ah, would you donate this to the Local Studies Library in the Wollongong City Library?

Michael   I’d donate it with the caveat that I may have missed some persons in acknowledgement, and I may have got my dates mixed up, so I, I’m happy to be corrected by somebody who’s more on top of history than me.

Edie   I think you’re….

Michael   But otherwise donate away. think either of us done either

Edie   You did, you did a great job, thank you.

Michael   No problem.